Understanding More About a Most Joyous Christian Doctrine

"Salvation is a gift of sovereign grace; condemnation is earned by disobedience." Neal Punt.

In modern 20th/21st century usage, 'grace' has become a word with quite broad and varied meaning, but 'grace' has quite a specific biblical meaning which Christians always need to keep in focus, indeed, it is one of the most encouraging of all the Christian doctrines! Yet it is sometimes misunderstood and even misrepresented by Christians. For example, I read somewhere that 'Grace' is merely a reference to the 'Five Points of Calvinism.' I have no idea if the writer who made that particular assertion, made it in order to save himself the trouble of defining it more precisely but that is an entirely incorrect statement. But grace does get a mention among those famous 'five points.' However, to state that grace may be summed up by the Five Points of Calvinism is a statement revealing a certain philosophical bias.

Perhaps we should continue no further until clarifying those so-called 'Five Points of Calvinism' since I have no doubt that the reader will now have questions about them. I will list these five points, say just a little about them, then go on to define biblical grace and what it means for the true believer.

Firstly, the word 'tulip' is usually adopted as an aid to correctly remembering and listing the five points of Calvinism in the following manner:

T-----Total Depravity.

U-----Unconditional Election.

L-----Limited Atonement.

I------Irresistible Grace.

P-----Perseverence of the Saints.

So the doctrine of grace does get great consideration in Point 4 of Calvinism's 'Five Points' (four points of which are entirely biblical as we have seen). Yet the assertion that grace can be seen as an 'umbrella term,' for all of these 5 points is certainly incorrect and shows a denominational/philosophical approach being given preference over employing a purely biblical definition. A great pity, in my view.

So how should we define 'grace' from a purely biblical point of view? As a most vital Christian doctrine, grace means "unmerited, or undeserved favour." This refers to something which cannot be earned - It is an entirely free gift! We really don't deserve it but God wants us to have it because He loves us. In a nutshell, the doctrine of grace is achieved and made available to us by the fact that Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay for our sins in order that we may inherit eternal life as sons and daughters of God. Since Christ was God, as well as Man, His life was of such precious value that His one act of death upon the cross paid for the sins of all Mankind. This is what is meant by the term, 'substitutionary atonement' - Christ was our substitute who took our sins upon His own shoulders that we might be reconciled to God. When we appropriate Christ through Christian conversion, we come under the free grace and favour of God. This unmerited favour, or grace of God, causes us to enter the kingdom of God right now and when we finally enter the Eternal State, we shall live within the spiritual realm of the divine; above the level of the angels, although below the realm of God Himself (some have suggested that we will become actually members of God's very family as 'God beings,' although below the level of the Holy Trinity, but that goes a little beyond what Scripture reveals). But our direct adoption as spiritual sons and daughters of God begins right now!

'For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him, we cry, "Abba, Father."' (Romans 8:15, NIV throughout).

Is 'Limited Atonement' Really Defendable?

In attempting to defend Limited Atonement, one well-known Calvinist writer states,
"Every breath that an unbeliever takes is an act of God's mercy withholding judgment (Romans 2:4). Every time the gospel is preached to unbelievers it is the mercy of God that gives this opportunity for salvation..." Yet within the same article the following statement also occurs, "...We deny that all men are intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way..."
In his concluding comments, this hard-line Calvinist writer asserts, "Christ died for all the sins of some men. That is, he died for the unbelief of the elect so that God's punitive wrath is appeased toward them and his grace is free to draw them irresistibly out of darkness into his marvelous light." There is clear contradiction here; first of all it is asserted that the mercy of God gives unbelievers the opportunity for salvation, but then it is stated that Christ only died for the sins of "some men." This almost pictures God cruelly tantalising people by offering a salvation that He knows that He never intends giving to them! In complete contrast to such reserve, the Bible is far and away more optimistic:
'...God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men - the testimony given in its proper time.' (1 Timothy 2:3b-6).
The concept that Jesus is the Saviour of "Some People," or "Some Men" is completely unbiblical; the concept of the 'Little Flock' occurs in a completely different context which is not a salvific numerical context but a context of the apparently few responding to the gospel at the present time.

Our eventual salvation itself, of course, is part of God's almost unimaginable grace towards us, but we are already recipients of God's bounteous grace. Indeed, it would be entirely correct to say that those called of God who will inherit Eternal Life have been the subjects of divine grace throughout their lives - indeed, even from being a 'babe in arms.' How so? Because we are entered within the Book of Life from eternity past, so even during the 'ups and downs' of our present and often turbulent physical existences, we are true recipients of His grace. When we come to Christ - as a result of a divine calling - we are finally faced with, and come to fully understand, this marvellous doctrine of grace and learn that we could never have approached God in a true understanding of Who He is and what He wants of us, without it. It is as though a light is suddenly switched on at that point and we clearly perceive the doctrine of grace and understand that it has been there all along, it's simply that we never saw it until the light was switched on.

'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.' (Ephesians 2:8-10).

So Grace comes from God and it is a gift which He wants us to have. The only condition is that one must accept it by believing and trusting in the redemptive work of Christ and His sacrifice upon the cross, and in His resurrection.

'This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for men....' (1 Timothy 2:3-6a).

But grace also means that we are freed from the penalty of sin. The famous game of Monopoly has a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card; well, grace gives us a 'Get Out of Divine Condemnation for Eternity' card! At night, when we settle down to sleep, we can truthfully say, "If I die before I wake, my soul is yours to take." Grace puts the born again (regenerate) believer beyond condemnation - for Eternity.

'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set free from the law of sin and death.' (Romans 8:1-2).

So the doctrine of grace frees us from the penalty of the law; therefore Eternal Death, or eternal separation from God, and His love, now hold no threat for us - for we have accepted the sacrifice of Christ and applied it to our own selves. So no sin can ever be imputed to us - indeed, righteousness belongs to us for eternity! The law formerly enslaved, but Christ frees us that we might become His own servants for eternity. Yet we will find that this new form of 'servitude' is the only path to true freedom, true joy and, of course, to life eternal.

'But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.' (Romans 7:6).

So the person under grace is the person who has received a most wonderful divine pardon from the King of Heaven Himself!

When our physical lives finish, joyful eternity in the very company of God and His angels now stretch before us. Even physical death itself (though it must still be suffered), holds no dominion over us, for when we draw our last breath upon earth, our souls immediately travel to Heaven to await the full resurrection in the company of God and His angels - even undoubtedly meeting up with already saved members of our families already residing in Heaven! (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:20-24; Revelation 6:9-11).

So the true believer should have complete confidence that they are already justified. But the true believer never claims to be without sin, but - like Paul - such people see such failures and shortcomings as just the last vestiges of sin still dwelling within the flesh, a 'flesh' which will not exist for very long! (Romans 7:21-25). With grace, one may truly say, "It is just as though I had never sinned" - yes, the slate really is wiped clean.

'Therefore, since we have been been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.' (Romans 5:1-2a).

'Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.' (1 Peter 1:3-5).

So the grace of God grants us a glorious inheritance that no man has ever yet seen nor heard. So this is truly a most joyous and wonderful doctrine.

Grace, therefore, as a biblical teaching, refers to God's extending of His abundant forgiveness and unmerited and unearned free pardon to true believers.

Some Errors in the Understanding of Grace...

A few misunderstand grace. In truth, lack of an in-depth biblical study on this doctrine is usually the problem. Some Christians from a non-Calvinistic background refuse to use the word 'grace' at all because of the mistaken belief that it refers to a purely Calvinistic doctrine (I have already looked a little at the misuse of the word 'grace' in that manner). Of course, 'grace' refers to a fully biblical doctrine even if certain Calvinists have occasionally used the term in a very questionable way.
For others, grace is something with which God rewards 'good people,' but when they are 'naughty' or when they fall short, God may well remove it. They seem to feel that Grace is conditional. Hopefully, we have already explained enough here for us all to see that that is simply not the biblical teaching; the Bible is clear that Grace is unconditional. The record of Scripture is that God NEVER removes His grace because of human shortcomings. As an example we should note the terrible shortcomings of Samson and of David. These two men were under divine grace and there can be no doubt that they genuinely loved God with all of their hearts, yet both men occasionally did wrong, indeed, very great wrong at times. God punished them when they did that. But did He remove His grace? No. It is obvious that both Samson and David remained under grace to the end of their lives! Grace is not dependent upon good human behaviour, even though one should normally expect decent behaviour from such people under all normal circumstances. This is one of the reasons that we should always avoid judging other Christians (though we have probably all been guilty of it). Only God sees the true spiritual heart of such people - we only see outward appearances, which can be so deceptive. So the biblical evidence is that God will certainly punish believers where they fall short, but that He never removes His grace from them.(John 6:44-45;10:27-30; Romans 8: entire chapter).

I hope and trust that this article will help us all to learn a little more about the wonderful biblical doctrine of Grace!

Robin A. Brace, 2007.

Here is a deeper, more thorough refutation of 'Limited Atonement':
Limited Atonement Exhaustively Refuted